Editorials

Illinois debt becomes more apparent, as do governor election politics

Illinois state Comptroller Susana Mendoza accompanied by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, left, and Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago, right, explains her "truth-in-hiring" legislation that would require the current and future governors to pay employees who report to them from their budgets instead of "off-shoring" them to the payrolls of other agencies.
Illinois state Comptroller Susana Mendoza accompanied by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, left, and Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago, right, explains her "truth-in-hiring" legislation that would require the current and future governors to pay employees who report to them from their budgets instead of "off-shoring" them to the payrolls of other agencies. AP

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza pushes hard to get Illinois leaders to face fiscal reality, but it's too bad that so much of what she says starts with "blame Rauner."

We often see government get more transparent around election time. Skeletons come out of the closets and sometimes public service results from those impure motives of self-interest.

Mendoza got the state law changed so that all those state agencies that sit on bills, because they know there's no money to pay them, had to report on them every month. The latest report shows Mendoza's office is waiting for money to pay $6.2 billion in bills, but there is another $2 billion sitting around the state agencies.

Finding out your debt is nearly 25 percent larger than you thought is disheartening, but needed if you hope to do anything about it.

Mendoza is again pushing transparency. She wants governors to stop sticking employees into the budgets of state agencies. They've all done it, with Gov. Bruce Rauner showing fewer than half his staff and payroll in his budget when she says he should show 102 staffers paid $10.4 million.

She lobbied the BND Editorial Board to end the deception through House Bill 5121, which passed the Illinois House and is in a Senate committee chaired by state Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville. We're not sure she did much homework on the vast influence we have with our favorite lame duck promoter of female friends and cell phone salesmen.

And this week she was in front of lawmakers saying the state since January 2015 paid $1.1 billion in late penalty interest on all its overdue bills — more than during the previous 18 years combined. She wants state budgets to stop ignoring those massive interest payments.

Here's Mendoza's problem: Everything gets couched in those "blame Rauner" terms. That debt period is the governor's tenure in Springfield. The hidden governor's employee bill and interest accounting comes as Mendoza pushes J.B. Pritzker to replace Rauner.

Illinois' fiscal meltdown should be blamed on more than the last guy to arrive at the blast furnace. Analysts gave us a near junk bond rating because Illinois failed to change spending patterns or address the $130 billion pension deficit as others did after the recession hit.

So "hurrah" for Mendoza the fiscal watchdog. "Boo" for Mendoza the political lapdog.

Plenty of blame and finger pointing is deserved by everyone in that capitol rotunda. Single-mindedly placing blame on the slightly experienced billionaire we've got does little to convince anyone that the new inexperienced billionaire would do any better.

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